Connecting with peers in your industry is such a fantastic way to build professional networks and meet the people you’ll be working and socializing with throughout your professional life. Sometimes that means saying hello to someone at an industry event you’re attending, and sometimes it means asking your supervisor if you can join them for lunch or coffee. But whether it’s a quick hello or a bold step, here are a few ways to help you build lasting, meaningful networking relationships.
1. Be Interested!
I think this is the most important step in building any relationship, be it personal or professional. But remember, the key to being interesting is being interested. Ask people about their job, about what they want to be doing, about their long-term goals for their career. Keep it professional, of course, but there’s no need for things to take on the tone of a job interview. Absolutely everybody appreciates a chance to talk about the things that excite them, and offering an open ear to somebody you’re just getting to know can go a long way to setting up a mutually positive impression.
2. Be interesting!
Alright, maybe this is cheating, but I think it’s an equally important flip side to number one. You’re talking to a colleague; they’ve just nerded out about their desire to one day get some seed money to start a business of their own. Now they’re asking about you. Don’t be shy! As much as people love to talk about their professional ambitions, they also want to encourage others in theirs. So, go for it! Talk about the career milestones you want to hit in the next 10 years. The way you hope your current position might put you on track for your dream job. All this does is help solidify in the mind of your new contacts an image of a grounded professional with big ideas.
3. Time and Place
This might be a bit of a damper after the first two, but it’s important to understand which work functions are and aren’t designed to work for you. If you’re in a tense meeting with clients, the walk out to the lobby afterward may not be the best time to exchange information. But the company holiday party? Go for it! There are a ton of situations between those two extremes, but a good rule of thumb is: when you’re working, stick to work; when you’re at a work-related social function, make some contacts!
4. Check in every now and then
Time for a personal anecdote: I had a former boss I really liked. Great person. When I left the company, I stayed subscribed to the company newsletter, which my former boss penned. I would periodically respond to the newsletter just to check in. Nothing too long, just variations of “Hope you’re doing well!” Sometimes my former boss would respond, sometimes not. It was a busy place, and I didn’t take it personally, just kept checking in. One day, my former boss announced in the newsletter that they would be leaving my old company for a new opportunity. Soon after, my old boss reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in interviewing at their new company. Even though we’d only kept in touch via email, we still had a personal relationship, and it moved me up the list of “potential hires” when the time came.
5. Go the extra mile
This is general life advice as much as anything else, but I think it applies to networking also. Everybody wants to be connected to an achiever, someone who puts in more than the minimum effort, wayyyy more, if you can manage it. Show up to work early, ask to take on extra assignments, ask if there’s anything else you can help with once you knock that extra assignment out. When you finally do ask that coworker if they want to join you for lunch or coffee, they may be more inclined to join you if they know you as a go-getter.
6. Never forget the up-and-comers
So, you’ve been in the workforce a few years now, and you’ve made some excellent contacts. You should be proud. But there are always new folks coming along, getting their start, trying to meet people. Once you’ve done a few years of hustle to build up your network, you might find yourself less inclined to give the time of day to the new kid on the block. Resist that impulse with everything you’ve got! Not only can a green professional bring some new insight and energy to your professional network, you NEVER know who might be the one hiring a few years down the road.
7. Keep an open mind about who constitutes someone “in your field.”
Say you’re a software engineer at a financial firm. You meet a veterinarian at a social event. “Okay,” you might think “This seems like a nice person, but I can’t imagine we’ll ever work together.” Think again! An old colleague of mine left a high-paying engineering job to design a proprietary software to keep track of occupancy for a veterinarian who was starting to expand his business into animal hospitals. In this advanced economy, you can never tell what kind of partnership someone might be looking for, whatever their line of work, so always keep an open mind!
8. Finally, relax… And trust that you make a positive impression all on your own
Maybe you’ve been at this a long time, or maybe you’re just starting out, either way, I think this advice applies. Relax! Meet people, say hello, get some contact info, and don’t worry too much. The best networking advice anybody could give you is to work hard and try to get better at what you do. If you do that, people will recognize it.
This article was written by Jason David. Jason David is a graduate of the University of Southern California and currently works as a freelance writer and performer in New York City.